IceHogs happy to have Philp back after long recovery

PKristin Ostrowski

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Luke Philp knew it within seconds, even amid the shock and confusion.

The Rockford IceHogs forward was coming off a career season with 29 goals, team MVP honors, and his first three NHL games. Offseason workouts back home in Edmonton had intensified deep into summer.

Sprint, lean down and grab a medicine ball, and sprint some more.

Training camp with the Chicago Blackhawks loomed only six or so weeks away.

Then, pop!

“It felt like someone had kicked the back of my legs,” Philp recounted. “Once I was down, I realized what had happened. I had all the textbook indicators… I knew a few people who had done it in the past, and they’d explained what happened to them.”

It was his right Achilles tendon. Surgery followed August 5. Out six months, and plenty of frustration.

“I think it took a couple days just to kind of realize the significance of it all,” Philp said. “I was having a really good summer. I was feeling really good training in the gym and I was skating lots, feeling really good on the ice. [It was] a big blow of coming off what I felt was the best hockey I’ve played in my career.”

A target was set for a return date in early February, past the midway point of the 2023-24 season. If Philp managed to make that timeline, teammates and opponents alike would all be well into midseason form, already preparing for the stretch drive. It was grim news for someone who had taken a long path to put himself on the brink of NHL work.

Philp, a Canmore, Alta., product, played five seasons in the Western Hockey League with Kootenay and Red Deer. But nothing in the way of NHL opportunities materialized and he headed to the University of Alberta, where he starred for three seasons; he was named the U Sports men’s hockey player of the year in 2018-19 and helped the Golden Bears to a national championship in 2018.

Finally, the Calgary Flames offered him a two-year entry-level deal in March 2019, and Philp made the most of it. He put up 19 goals and 31 points in 52 AHL games as a rookie in 2019-20, and after re-signing for a third season, he scored 21 goals in 2021-22 and helped the Stockton Heat reach the Western Conference Finals.

By then 26 years old, Philp took on a new opportunity with the Chicago organization, signing as a free agent in July 2022. Blackhawks management wanted Philp as someone who could push for more NHL work and bolster the organization whether he was playing out of Chicago or Rockford.

But then the injury. After surgery came the long rehabilitation process. As the Blackhawks convened for camp, Philp remained back home in Edmonton rehabbing. He headed to Rockford in October to continue recovery. He also tried to use the down time productively. Even more effort when in the gym.

More frustration remained ahead, though. Philp got himself to the point where he began skating, but his right skate was creating friction on his surgery scar. A player at this level needs a precise fit. Good enough is not good enough.

It’s not the most common issue, either, as Philp learned when consulting with friends who had been through the return process from the same type of injury.

“That’s when the frustration really started to kick in,” Philp acknowledged.

But everyone stuck with the process. Philp worked with the Rockford training and equipment staffs to devise a solution to the problem. And finally came a major step forward, when the Blackhawks activated Philp off injured reserve and assigned him to Rockford on Mar. 6.

On Mar. 16, Philp returned to the IceHogs lineup for the first time in more than 10 months as Rockford hosted San Jose. He needed just 2:55 to find the net.


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The IceHogs are heading back to the Calder Cup Playoffs this season, currently sitting third in the Central Division with seven games remaining. Philp, who has three points (two goals, one assist) through 11 games, admits that he is still rounding into his form of last season.

But he is back, and that is what matters for now. Practice time gets more limited so late in the season as teams try to conserve energy before what they hope can be a lengthy postseason run. Still, Philp remains hopeful and feels that last season’s standard will return soon enough.

“I think I can get it back and get it to a level where it needs to be,” Philp said. “I still have a lot of confidence in my game and my ability to make this team even better.”